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McConnell warns against leaving Syria and Afghanistan ‘too hastily’

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Islamic State and al-Qaida militants still pose a “serious threat” to the United States and cautioned the Trump administration against an early exit from Syria and Afghanistan.

The comments by McConnell, R-Ky., appeared to be a pushback against the Trump administration. President Donald Trump recently announced plans for a U.S. pullout from Syria — a decision that prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign. Trump also has ordered the military to develop plans to remove up to half of the 14,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

“Simply put, while it is tempting to retreat to the comfort and security of our own shores, there is still a great deal of work to be done,” McConnell said. “And we know that left untended these conflicts will reverberate in our own cities.”

He said that while the United States is not the “world’s policeman,” it is the “leader of the free world” and must lead to continue to maintain a global coalition against terrorism and stand by allies engaged in the fight. He also stressed the importance of coordination between the White House and Congress to develop on long-term strategies in both nations, “including a thorough accounting of the risks of withdrawing too hastily.”

McConnell said he plans to introduce an amendment to the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act,” which affirms U.S. commitment to Israeli security, deepens ties with Jordan and holds accountable those responsible for crimes against Syrian civilians.

“My amendment would acknowledge the plain fact that al Qaeda, ISIS, and their affiliates in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to our nation,” McConnell said. “It would recognize the danger of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict and highlight the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan.”